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Last Updated:9/23/00
Statement by Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-New York), chairman, International Relations Committee, September 21, 2000
NEWS FROM THE
House International
Relations Committee

Benjamin A. Gilman, Chairman

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

DATE: September 21, 2000
FOR RELEASE: Immediate

Contact: Lester Munson, Communications Director (202)225-5021

STATE DEPT. ROLE IN AID TO COLOMBIA QUESTIONED BY GILMAN

WASHINGTON (September 21) - U.S. Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman (20th-NY), Chairman of the House International Relations Committee, made the following statement today at a Western Hemisphere Subcommittee hearing on counter-drug assistance to Colombia:

Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling these very timely hearings on the situation in Colombia. We had believed that the administration was about to sign contracts for the drug fighting choppers, for which we provided the monies in Plan Colombia. The delays we are hearing about today are alarming to say the least.
How those choppers are configured and how other monies Congress provided under Plan Colombia are spent will make a major difference in Colombia. The answers to these questions will determine whether we accomplish our twin goals of reducing drugs from abroad and helping save Colombian democracy from the "self sufficient" and well-armed narco-terrorist insurgencies of the ELN and the FARC.

If the Administration's track record of failing to get the right aid to Colombia in a timely fashion is any indication, we ought to be very concerned.

By comparison, the Russian-speaking mafia -- in conjunction with the drug traffickers -- got the steel, tools and manuals down to Colombia to build a pressurized double-hull submarine to move drugs into our nation. Our State Department ought to be able to deliver our counter-drug aid at least that well. If not, we are in big trouble.

In July, the State Department Inspector General's office released an audit of the Colombian anti-drug program. That report was requested by Chairman Burton and me last March, after we saw that the Huey II choppers were improperly configured for the Colombian National Police.

That IG's audit makes it clear there was a lack of consultation by the State Department with the Colombian police, the front-line fighters against drugs, on how their choppers were to be configured.
Even worse, the Inspector General's report revealed that the Bell 212 choppers that were given to the Colombian cops could not fly because the INL Bureau failed to give the police the spare parts they needed.

As we know, the Colombian police have the lead in drug fighting in that troubled country. The police have lost nearly 5,000 officers in the last decade fighting drugs, and many of their elite anti-drug unit were lost or captured when their choppers were shot down by the narco-terrorists.

Congress had to lead the way in providing both good choppers and the correctly configured Black Hawks for the police. We thank Speaker Hastert for leading the way in that effort. We helped to do it right, I am pleased to report today.

Through mid-September of this year, the police have record eradication levels, and drug interdiction has soared, all without the loss of one policeman's life because we gave them Black Hawks with the right defensive weapon -- the GAU 19 Gatling gun. I would like to note that this very same defensive weapon was just chosen by the United States Marine Corps to protect its new 21st Century troop transport.

The police have done an amazing job with eradicating opium production. They have managed to eradicate five times the amount of poppy that they eliminated in all of 1998. This was done without any loss of life in the rugged high Andes.

I have long had a healthy skepticism of Plan Colombia, both in its implementation by our State Department based on State's past performance, and the over-emphasis on our aid to the Colombian military instead of the Colombian police's excellent anti-drug unit.

As we approach the provision of nearly one billion dollars in aid to Colombia, I need to be convinced that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated.

I look forward to hearing testimony from today's witnesses from the Administration. I hope they will provide answers on whether we can get it right this time. If not, the future of Colombian democracy is at grave risk, along with that of American families and children.

As of September 23, 2000, this document was also available online at http://www.house.gov/international_relations/press/62prsep21.html

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